Making Friends of Coworkers: How Close Is Too Close?

Two women in business attire walk down path holding coffee, talking and laughingWith the growth of social media and the constant connection through smartphones, our personal and work lives are blending more than ever. We connect with people on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook after just one lunch meeting. Friends become business partners and coworkers become friends.

This can all be both good and bad, depending on how we manage the inherent conflicts that arise from this transparency. For example, do you dare to post about the Monday drudgery if you have coworkers as Facebook friends about to enter the same 9 a.m. meeting? And do you let your friend, who is also a colleague, know you weren’t really sick last Friday and went on a hike instead of coming into the office?

A Gallup poll discovered people who identify having a best friend at work tend to be more engaged on the job. These people also rank high in overall job satisfaction. They tend to be more productive, more passionate, and more loyal to their employer, all while getting sick less. Thus, the poll’s results suggest, fraternizing during your lunch break and meeting up with coworkers on the weekend can benefit you professionally as well as personally.

However, unclear definition of roles and poor communication are some of the top things that lead to job dissatisfaction. And these are things that can easily pop up as problems when we get comfortable with one another and let things slide. Knowing your professional role at work and having clear boundaries with certain coworkers can lessen the potential for conflict in the office and keep your reputation solid.

Here are some strategies for how to interact at work that allow you to spend quality time with coworkers while maintaining a good reputation:

  1. Take note of the office culture. Even within one company, different office locations can have vastly different cultures. Identify what attributes are valued among team members and how they communicate with one another. This will help you establish how you fit into the team and how to communicate with them. You’ll also have a better idea of whether your coworkers seem like people with whom you’d like to spend time outside of work.
  2. Avoid talking about other coworkers. Workplace gossip is common and may seem harmless, but it’s best to stay out of making judgments while on the job. To avoid creating an awkward situation when a coworker is gossiping, you can reply with something like, “I don’t know, since I haven’t talked with Susan much.” Or, “Really? He seemed pretty knowledgeable in our meeting yesterday.”
  3. Don’t push your boundaries. Many relationships we have will push us to consider new ideas or try new things. This can be a rewarding experience when we’re spending time with someone we know loves and accepts us for who we are. However, this is often not the case at work. While it’s important to remain open-minded while discussing options in a meeting, it’s best to explore your comfort level with expressing emotions or getting close to people in a setting that may not be so impactful to your career if things backfire.

While it’s important to remain open-minded while discussing options in a meeting, it’s best to explore your comfort level with expressing emotions or getting close to people in a setting that may not be so impactful to your career if things backfire.

If you’re a manager, you have a few extra things to consider. You have less room for error, and seemingly innocent situations can quickly spiral into a human resources complaint.

  1. If you supervise people who are friends outside of work, make sure you never share information about other coworkers. What is workplace gossip to colleagues of an equal level is generally a violation of privacy for managers.
  2. Don’t try to cover things up. In most situations, honesty is the best policy. Tell your own supervisor if one of the employees you supervise is a friend and ask them to keep you accountable regarding fair treatment. While it’s not something you want to send a company email announcing, you can and should acknowledge the friendship among your team if it comes up. They likely know anyway, so it’s better to keep communication open and remain authentic.
  3. Check in with your friend/coworker. Talk about it when things are uncomfortable in either dynamic, and establish ground rules so neither of you feels slighted and you can quickly repair any ruptures in the relationship.

Yes, it may sometimes be a bit more difficult to navigate work and life when they intersect, especially when personal relationships get involved. But having friends at work can make you excited to show up to the office Monday morning and create a culture of support when work gets complicated and life gets tough.

With the right attitude and a watchful eye for addressing conflict quickly and avoiding gossip, work friendships can blossom into lifetime friendships.

References:

  1. Ellingwood, S. (2001). The Collective Advantage. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/787/collective-advantage.aspx
  2. Friedman, R. (2014, December 2). You Need a Work Best Friend. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/12/you-need-a-work-best-friend.html

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Maelisa Hall, PsyD, therapist in Irvine, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ginny

    Ginny

    March 22nd, 2017 at 7:41 AM

    Uh oh I guess I’ve flunked because some of my very best friends are the people that I work with. We hang out after work, on weekends, I mean we are just a tight knit group. I think that being that close on the other side of office hours really helps us do better as a team working together during office hours.

  • Maelisa Hall

    Maelisa Hall

    March 22nd, 2017 at 1:10 PM

    Hi Ginny,
    No, you haven’t flunked at all! The Gallup Poll quoted in the article pointed out that people with close friends at work are also more engaged at work and enjoy their job more. So, you’re right on track to creating a wonderful and committed environment. :)

  • Eddie

    Eddie

    March 22nd, 2017 at 11:04 AM

    You must work with a far superior crowd than what I do because I choose to spend as little time with my co workers as I possibly can, even on the days when we work together! For me I like to get away from the stress of work and when we have done things together in the past it is like work is the only thing that we have in common which makes it so that this is what we talk about… and who needs that on my time off?

  • Maelisa Hall

    Maelisa Hall

    March 28th, 2017 at 8:28 PM

    To each his own, Eddie! :)
    Some good food for thought if you ever decide to switch jobs.

  • Ginny

    Ginny

    March 23rd, 2017 at 11:10 AM

    hehehe thanks!

  • Janice

    Janice

    March 25th, 2017 at 10:17 AM

    I guess if something huge happened outside of work I would probably let them know but other than that, no.

  • Hollis

    Hollis

    March 28th, 2017 at 3:18 PM

    I complain all the time about work stuff but to my work people because they are the ones who have a better chance understanding what the issues are. I shouldn’t have to drag my husband into all of that and it isn’t fair to always bring all of that stuff home and lay it out on him either. If I can vent to the people who are actually there and living it then ultimately I probably have a better chance of working things out.

  • Maelisa Hall

    Maelisa Hall

    March 28th, 2017 at 8:31 PM

    It’s definitely great when you feel others can understand the whole situation. And what a great way to get your needs met re: venting and problem-solving, but while also keep some work/life boundaries!

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